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Happy birthday Chitty!

PUBLISHED: 09:52 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013

Hungerford is welcoming one of the world's most famous cars to its annual Victorian Extravaganza this month. Tessa Harris celebrates 40 years of "our fine four fendered friend"

It's 40 years this month since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang first delighted a generation on the big screen and now everyone's favourite eponymous flying car is calling into Hungerford's annual Victorian Extravaganza on December 12.


More than 12,000 people thronged into the historic town last Christmas for its annual festivities, but this year - the Extravaganza's 17th - organisers are expecting even more, thanks to their very special visitor.


Ben Blake of Sugar Mouse, the delightfully nostalgic sweet shop in Hungerford's High Street, explains: "This year the Victorian Extravaganza is going to be even bigger and we wanted something a bit special. While Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was set in the Edwardian era, the original car is a great attraction and in keeping with the whole event."


The 1968 classic starred Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, Robert Helpmann as the Child Catcher and Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious. Cubby Broccoli co produced the film and Roald Dahl co-wrote the screenplay, which was based on Bond creator Ian Fleming's 1964 book. Its songs include Toots Sweet, Hushabye Mountain and Truly Scrumptious.


But the real star of the show was, of course, the car itself. It was created by the film's production designer Ken Adam and Roland Emmett, whose job was to design a series of madcap inventions that featured in the film. (Remember loveable Lionel Jeffries as Grandpa Potts?) They joined up with the Ford Racing Team and the world's most famous car was born.


No detail was spared in her creation and the final product weighed approximately two tons, was 17 feet long, and was built on a custom-made ladder frame chassis. While many traditional forms of car-building were re-employed, modern technology also played its part. The car may have looked completely authentic to experts but it still had to brave the elements and take what the script demanded of it in its stride.


Chitty rolled out of the workshop in June 1967 and was registered with the number plate GEN 11 given to her by Ian Fleming in his novel. If you read the number ones as "i's", it spelled out the Latin word genii meaning magical person or being.


Because of the high level of detail on the vehicle and the rough treatment it was about to encounter during film-making, other similar stand-in vehicles were constructed. There were five other "Chittys" in all that were replicas and which appeared as stunt doubles.The film-makers were very careful never to allow the cars to be photographed or seen together maintaining the aura of mystique. All five of the movie Chittys are now accounted for - the last one being sold at a high-profile motor auction in the United States.


Fittingly, it was the man involved in Chitty's maintenance during filming and some stunt driving, Pierre Picton, who actually bought her along with another replica Chitty in 1974. The second Chitty was sold, but the original GEN 11 remains in Pierre's ownership and now travels all over the world, taking part in parades, charity events and rallies and now of course in Hungerford's Victorian Extravaganza.


Chitty is, of course, a great crowd puller but children especially immediately look for the car's wings. They are, in fact, underneath the vehicle and measure about 18 foot long.


So will Ben be selling 'toots sweets' - candy sticks that tooted when blown in the film? "I'll have to look into that one and possibly find something similar," he says, "although we do sell lots of other traditional confectionery like chocolate rocking horses for Christmas."


There'll be plenty more traditional attractions to keep visitors enthralled during the evening. Chitty won't be the only vintage car and there'll be several steam engines and even penny farthing bicycles on show. Children will love seeing Santa's real reindeer, watching a Punch and Judy Show, having rides on carousels, a helter skelter and the big wheel. There'll also be dozens of stalls and side shows, together with various entertainers who'll be mingling in among the crowd during the evening.

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